How to Interview: Teresa Palmer and Maria Bello on “Lights Out”

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If you’re human, then you’ve been afraid of the dark at least one time in your life – and the latest horror film Lights Out plays right into that fear.

Swedish filmmaker David F. Sandberg, who, along with wife Lotta Losten, first created the Lights Out story two years ago as a short film for a competition. That film went viral on YouTube with over one million views – and naturally, Hollywood came calling.

Sandberg had to flesh out the story a bit to make his first feature film, so he centered it on Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), a young woman who realizes her little half-brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), is experiencing the same events that once tested her sanity. Rebecca works to unlock the truth behind the terror, which brings her face to face with an entity who cannot survive in the light and has an unnatural attachment to their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello).

At the recent press day, ScreenPicks sat down with stars Palmer and Bello to talk about the creepy Lights Out.

On working with first-time director David Sandberg:

Palmer: He’s very soft-spoken, and one day he came up to me and said (in a quite voice), “This can be stressful, sometimes.” I was like, “That’s your stressed out? You’re unbelievable. How are you so calm?” Even if he was stressed or nervous, you never felt it from him. He made this short film that became so successful. It came out of his brain. Everyone believed in him and I could tell on set that he knew what he was doing. On the private plane going to Cinema-Con with the Suicide Squad cast, they were staring ahead quietly. I looked at them and said, “Guys, is this blowing your mind?” They had the sweetest, most endearing reaction. It was refreshing to see.

Bello: He was wonderful. He’s had no ego about him. He’s like a little kid coming to Hollywood going what the heck am I doing here. He had a strong vision of what he wanted. You could tell by his other shorts. He has a real passion for film. When you speak to him, his passion just shows through. He just collected the greatest people around him. Lawrence (Grey) and James Wan are at the top of the genre and the DP and the production designer and the actors. He was open to having the best people come together to make his vision come to life and I think he did a terrific job.

On having the Diana entity be a real person instead of CGI:

Teresa Palmer: For my first scene, I hadn’t really seen her. I know Alicia. She was my stunt double on “I Am Number Four.” We became really good friends; we went to the gym together. She texted me and said, “I’m in your movie. I’m playing this entity.” So I knew she was in the suit. They didn’t tell me when she was on set. She was on the ground scratching on the floor and then I saw her. I screamed out loud and everyone started laughing. At first it was shocking to see her in real life. Just the way she could contort her body was terrifying, and then we’d sees her (on the set) in a chair reading a book or doing selfies. It was bizarre.

Maria Bello: First of all, have you seen Alicia? She’s a supermodel. She’s a gymnast that looks like a supermodel. It’s funny because she’s really soft-spoken. I do believe at Comic-Con next year, there will be people dressed like Diana because she’s so creepy, the way that she moves her fingers and squats. That’s all her imagining this entire character without speaking, without ever being seen, really. Only in the shadows. So I think she did a terrific job… I thought they might put a lot of CGI in it. But it was so well done with her and the lighting they had. They didn’t need it.

On seeing the finished film:

Palmer: It affected me in a way I was not expecting. You’re really transported to this world and it’s completely terrifying. I found it truly terrifying.

Bello: I wasn’t in the first sequence with the mannequins, the warehouse. [My friend] was screaming so loud. We were grabbing each other. I don’t usually sit through a movie at a premiere but I’m going to this time because I can’t wait to see it with an audience. I heard it’s hysterical to see it with an audience.

On being how being a mom gave a new perspective:

Palmer: Certainly it opened me up emotionally in every aspect; the dynamic with the little brother.  I felt feelings for [Gabriel Bateman] that I hadn’t felt on film sets before. I was such a mama bear not only to the character but also the actor. He had to go to some very vulnerable places and I was always checking in with him and making sure he was OK. I was never like that before (I had my first son). I used to just goof around with my co-stars. So I was very much emotionally invested in his well being. It helped our dynamic onscreen. I loved him and cared about him. My oldest son, my stepson, is his age, and he’d come to set all the time.  They used to hang out and kick the soccer ball around in front of the house. It was lovely.

On preparing for their roles:

Palmer: I know mental illness. It’s all through my family. I’ve experienced it. I know it so well that I’m very sensitive to when it’s portrayed onscreen.

Bello: I prepared through living. Some of you might have read my book where I talk about having the gift of bipolar disorder. I was able to use my experience from that and put it onscreen for the first time. Remembering what it was to be that person who couldn’t get out of bed for three months, to really try and understand what it would be like to have my child at a time when I was in that space, and not understanding what reality was.

On it being a dramatic movie with horror layered on top – an allegory of mental illness:

Bello: If you took the horror out of it, it’s a stand-alone movie. The drama of this family and these complicated relationships due to mental illness. I was certainly drawn to that. She’s a wonderful character to play, a mother suffering from depression, off her medication, on the verge of a psychotic breakdown, who also has this shadow self. You don’t know if it’s real. She doesn’t know if it’s real at some point. I thought that would be a complicated and great thing to play.

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